Can a Kayak Fit in a Car? (SUV, Minivan & Truck Bed Examples)


Kayaking is one of the best ways to get out into nature and enjoy an afternoon on your favorite body of water. Unless you are lucky enough to own a bit of lakeside property, there remains the question of getting your vessel to the water. But what kind of vehicle does it take to transport your kayak from the garage to the boat launch? Can a kayak fit in a car?

You cannot safely fit a kayak in a car; however, you can fit it on top of a car. SUVs, minivans, and truck beds all provide excellent options when transporting a kayak, although some of these vehicles require a bit more planning and preparation than others. 

In this article, we will look at the three best ways to transport your kayak to and from the water without a trailer. If you are thinking of buying a kayak but don’t have room for a trailer and aren’t sure if your current vehicle is up to the challenge, read on.

Essential Equipment

Whether you drive a Toyota Corolla or a Hummer, there are a few things that you will need when transporting your kayak from the garage to the water and back again. 

Straps

In any situation where you are loading your kayak up for transportation, you will need to secure it using some rope or straps. While a bit of sturdy rope can certainly work when securing your kayak to your roof, many people prefer the added security of purpose-built straps. The straps described below are high-quality options that you should consider:

NRS Buckle Bumpers

These straps are produced by one of the leading outdoor kayaking manufacturers and made of polypropylene webbing built to last. They also feature durable, double-spring buckles that are fully wrapped in polypropylene to protect your car and kayak from any dings and dents that might occur when loading it up. These straps are sold in pairs and designed specifically for securing boats to cars. Moreover, they’re UV protected and rated up to 1,500 lbs. 

Perception Deluxe Kayak Tie Down Straps

Another leader in the world of high-quality kayak and adventure gear, these straps are designed specifically for securing rooftop loads. Perception Deluxe Straps feature corrosion-resistant buckles, making them ideal for use on ocean kayaks, as well as fresh-water crafts. 

The UV resistant webbing will help them stand up to the elements, while the rubber buckle guards will protect your car’s paint and finish. These straps are a great option, rated up to 800 lbs, and come in pairs.

Thule Locking Straps

Brought to you by one of the most respected manufacturers of personal cargo carriers, Thule Locking Straps add an extra level of security when transporting your kayak. Each strap contains a steel cable, and the corrosion-resistant aluminum buckles include a single key locking cylinder. The rubberized buckles will protect your car’s finish and keep your kayak securely attached to the roof of your vehicle.

Racks

The other bit of equipment you will need when transporting your kayak on an SUV or minivan is a roof rack. These will protect the roof of your car from any damage that could occur during transport and make securing your kayak a breeze. Here are a few examples of the four most popular styles of roof rack available. For the first three of these roof rack options, your car will need crossbar attachments for mounting, like these CargoLoc 2 Piece Cross Bars.

Saddles

These are a popular style of roof rack for kayak transportation that is ideal for just about any type of kayak you can imagine. They are attached to the crossbars on your car’s roof using bolts and differ from some of the other rack options in that saddles carry your kayak with the keel facing down. They provide an added cushion to protect your kayak, and some models, like the Malone Seawing, even come with built-in straps to make securing your boat a cinch.

J-Cradles

This type of roof rack is by far the most popular and is considered the best potion when securing your kayak to the roof of your vehicle. Carrying your kayak at a roughly 45° angle from your car’s roof, they can accommodate a variety of different sizes and styles of kayaks. J-cradles provide the support and security to make sure your boat makes it to the water in the same condition as when it came out of your garage. 

The Yakima JayHook is a great example of this roof rack style and features a locking mounting system to keep your equipment safe year-round.

Stackers

If you have multiple kayaks that you need to get to the water in one trip, then these are the racks for you. These racks can carry up to four kayaks at once, secured to your roof’s crossbars with the help of some straps and pads. Thule’s 830 The Stacker is a great example of this rack style that is a must-have for large kayaking families or a dedicated paddling crew. 

Temporary Pads

This kayak transportation style is perfect for the 3-time a year kayaker that doesn’t want to drive around with roof racks on their car year-round. As the name implies, these racks use foam pads that sit on top of your roof’s crossbars and are secured with built-in straps. They can be installed in minutes and provide a secure and cushioned ride for your kayak. These Orion Motor Tech pads are a popular model.

Loading Your Kayak

Now that we have an idea of the equipment you will need to transport your kayak safely, we can look at the process for a few different types of vehicles.

SUV

The sports utility vehicle is probably the most popular option for transporting kayaks (source). The seating comfortably accommodates several people and many models already come with crossbars. 

The first step is to attach your rack to your roof. Here we will look at the J-cradle style since these are some of the most popular roof racks. 

To install the Yakima JayHook:

  1. You place the cradle onto the crossbar and tighten the fastener. No tools are required, making this a fast and easy installation process. 
  2. Repeat the process with the second cradle and use the key to lock them in place. 
  3. Once both cradles are attached in the proper locations, thread the included straps through the armbars, and you are ready to load up your kayak. 
  4. If it is a heavier boat, you may want to get help from a friend. When using a J-cradle rack, you will be approaching the car from the side, so be careful not to bang the kayak into the windows or door. If you are concerned about damaging your car, don’t be afraid to lay down a blanket or towel for an added level of protection. 
  5. Extend the arms into their upright position, and lift the kayak into place. The bottom of the boat will be touching the cradle with the cockpit facing out. For this reason, it is a good idea to close the cockpit with a cockpit cover.
  6. Use the cradle straps to secure the kayak to the arm bars, making sure to get a snug fit so there won’t be any movement when traveling down the highway. 
  7. Finally, attach straps to the bow and stern of your kayak. Run them through either the tow hitch or the bumper in the rear of your car and the bumper at the front of your car.
  8. Double-check to make sure there is no movement, all your straps are tightened down, and you are ready to hit the road. 

Minivan

Taking kayaks out to the lake can be a fun and relaxing family outing, and minivans remain some of the most popular family cars on the market (source). Since they are so commonly used to transport families, we will take this opportunity to look at hauling multiple kayaks with the stacker type racks.

In this case, we will assume that your minivan already has crossbars since these components are recommended for just about every kayak roof rack on the market. For this example, we will look at the Thule 830 Stacker.

  1. The first step is to place your Thule Stacker on the crossbar. Since these racks are designed to hold kayaks on either side, you will want to place the rack at the center of the bar.
  2. Once it is in the desired location, thread the bolts included in the kit through the rack. 
  3. Then, place the bracket below the crossbar and bring the bolts through the bracket. Use the included wingnuts to secure the rack, making sure they are properly seated and tightened down.
  4. Repeat the process with the second rack making sure they both line up with the center of the car and with each other. 
  5. Once both racks are in place, thread the straps through the top section of both the front and rear rack. You are now ready to place your first kayak on the roof. 
  6. Once again, if it is a heavy boat, you will probably want some help from a friend, and don’t hesitate to throw a blanket down if you are worried about damaging your car or kayak. Like SUVs, minivans can be a bit tall, so some people use a step stool to get a better angle when lifting their kayak onto the roof. 
  7. Don’t forget to close your cockpit with a cockpit cover to prevent potential damage when traveling at speed. 

Similarly to the J-cradle style racks, you will be approaching your stacker from the side of the car and placing the boat with the cockpit facing out. However, while the J-cradle holds your boat at roughly 45° angle, your kayak will be secured vertically on a stacker. This is where an extra set of hands will come in handy, especially if you are loading multiple kayaks.

  1. Place the first kayak with the bottom of the hull touching the raised bar of the rack, making sure it is perpendicular to the car’s roof. 
  2. With a friend holding this boat in place, lift the second kayak onto the rack with the bottom of the hull placed against the first boat’s cockpit. If you are concerned about any potential scratches or dings that could occur during transport, go ahead and throw a blanket between each kayak. 
  3. Once both kayaks are placed on the rack at the proper angle, thread the strap from the top of the rack, over the kayaks, below the crossbar, and back over both kayaks. 
  4. Secure it snugly, but don’t tighten it all the way down and repeat the strapping process with the second rack. 
  5. Once the kayaks are both in place, tighten the straps all the way and make sure there is no wiggle room.
  6. Finally, as an added precaution, attach the kayaks’ bow and stern to the minivan’s front and rear bumpers using straps. Since you are taking four kayaks, repeat these steps with two more boats on the car’s opposite side.
  7. Double-check that the kayaks are secure, and you’re ready to take the family to the lake for a day on the water.

Truck Bed

This is by far the simplest and easiest way to transport kayaks, and anyone that owns a pickup truck doesn’t even need a roof rack to get most kayak models to the water. However, for kayaks over 11 feet, a rack should be installed that lifts the boat over the cab, but we will look at transporting a smaller boat without the need for a rack. 

  1. The first step is to drop the tailgate and clear the truck of any debris or unsecured cargo that could damage your kayak when driving down the highway. If you need to carry other cargo like life jackets or a cooler in the truck bed, make sure everything is secured and won’t slide around during transport. 
  2. The next step is to lay down something in the bed of the truck to protect your kayak. A rubber mat is the best option because it will prevent your kayak from sliding and provide a cushioned surface between the metal truck bed and your boat. 
  3. Once you have something laid down in the back of your truck, load the kayak in the truck stern first and close the tailgate. 
  4. Depending on the length of your boat, there could be a significant amount of the kayak sticking up into the air out the back of your truck. DOT regulations state that anything sticking out more than four feet from the back of your truck requires a red flag to be attached, so if this is the case for your canoe, don’t forget to follow these guidelines (source).
  5. Once your kayak is in the truck bed with the hull facing up, position it so that the stern is in the front left corner of the bed with the bow in the opposite corner. This positioning will help keep the kayak in place, reduce its tendency to drift, and provide maximum visibility when driving.
  6. When securing your kayak, run a strap over the top of the kayak and attach one end to an anchor point near the tailgate and below the edge of the truck bed. Attach the other end of the strap to an anchor point in the opposite corner, near the cab of the truck. Tighten the strap slowly, allowing the kayak to settle into a position where it is sitting securely in the bed of the truck. 
  7. Run another strap from the boat’s bow that is sticking out over the tailgate down to the tow hook and tighten it until the kayak is fully secure. 

It is recommended that you load the kayak with the hull facing up and the cockpit down, but if this isn’t possible due to other cargo, make sure to use a cockpit cover. An uncovered cockpit can create an enormous amount of draft and lead to problems when you’re cruising down the highway. 

When securing a kayak into a truck bed without a rack, it is important to take your time and ensure that it is properly seated with no room to move. It is better to be 100% sure your kayak isn’t going anywhere than deal with the potential chaos that could ensue if it were to fly out of the back of your truck at 60mph. 

Final Thoughts

Taking a kayak out on a lake or river can provide about as much fun as you’re likely to have without a motor, but one of these paddle-powered boats won’t do you much good if you can’t get it to the water. 

However, you don’t need a massive trailer to make the most of your kayak this summer. With one of these rack systems, any car can be used to get your kayak from the garage to the water and back again, with minimal effort, and if you already drive a pickup truck, it is as easy as load it up, strap it down, and hit the road.

Sources: 1 2 3

Austin Carmody

I am the owner of HydroPursuit. I enjoy kicking back and getting out on the water as much as I can in my free time.

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